I had been here before, only 2 years and 3 months past, but it feels like a lifetime ago. The Seine then had been lined by stately trees adorned in the glorious colors of fall. Now the same trees are pale and bare, their branches thrown upwards in seeming surrender to a gray uncaring sky. The air then had been cool and crisp, the October sun giving light and warmth. Now, January, it is raining relentlessly, bringing the kind of cold that burrows deep into one’s bones.
And I? I am different too.
My eyes before had sparkled with excitement. “I’m crossing a street in Paris!” I’d beamed. “I’m drinking coffee in Paris!” I had soaked in the unrealness of a dream trip come true; I had thought the world wonderful. Now, the light in my eyes are somewhat dimmed by a layer of disillusion. I had learned, within a too short span of time, that some dreams do not survive a brush with reality.
The Batobus at least is the same, I think, as I board the hop on-hop off service at its Hôtel de Ville stop. The boat’s transparent dome was perfect for such a wet and miserable day as this. One could cruise the Seine, see the Eiffel Tower, catch a glimpse of the Louvre and Notre-Dame, all from the boat’s warm and dry confines. It was also ideal for spotting the little charms along the river: the golden beasts of the Pont Alexandre III, the green bouquiniste stalls, the love locks, the bridges, the promising benches, even the various waterfowl that seemed enviably oblivious to the winter chill.
I spot an old silver camper near the Champs-Élysées dock and I wonder if someone was actually living in it. I wonder if I could live in something like it — be a traveler always, even at home. Then I wonder if it had been abandoned after all, if its owner had given up an itinerant life. Had the camper gone places I could only dream of? Was the wear and tear from the journey worth it? Had it traveled not wisely but well?
We pass by the Bateaux Mouches dock, where many of its boats were currently moored. Until tourism picks up again? Or only until later in the day? Did the winter slack leave some workers unemployed? What did they do for food? Did they hibernate until spring?
If only people can hibernate until the winters of their lives pass — until the pain, the paralysis wrought by grief is gone. But perhaps it is in these seasons that the seed is readied for bloom. Perfected, like wine and butterflies.
I hope so. I am in winter myself and I sometimes wonder if it will ever end.
Across the Musée d’Orsay, several rows of trees line the right bank, and I think: how beautiful it must be in spring, when the leaves burst forth and the trees come alive again. And how fitting it is that I am here in winter, when I too feel bare and barely alive.
The seasons will change. They must. Not even the harshest winters can stop the spring.
“Hang in there, trees,” I whisper, and in my mind I see them bending down their stiff, sad branches to pat my head and tell me the same thing.